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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

The Convenient Radical

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Right next to the tables where the chess players wait, chessboards laid out, clocks set up, to gull some passing businessman or arrogant NYU student out of his lunch money, the remnant of the Occupation remains.

Below the break-dancers spin and tumble enjoying the first days of spring. A bad drummer by the fountain persistently whacks away providing a dissonant soundtrack to the yuppies toting bags full of supposedly organic groceries from the stalls of the farmers’ market.

Occupy Wall Street isn’t much in the news now. It lost the battle on the southern frontier and has settled into a prolonged brawl with Trinity Church that was doomed from the start. Not too long ago, the Occupiers earned constant headlines. Now they have been reduced to a single folding table manned by a beardo with a banner featuring Martin Luther King and Obama. “I have a dream, not a drone,” it reads.

A homeless man toting a rusted shopping cart full of bottles and cans stops by to chat with him and then moves along after dropping a dime in the coffee cup.

Thanks to New York City’s recycling laws, the cans and bottles are money in the bank. The homeless man with the rusted shopping cart is working for a living while the Occupier has a coffee cup and is protesting for a living.

This is Occupy Wall Street and even though spring is in the air and the weather is warm enough for a renewal of the occupation, you don’t hear much about them anymore. And there are good reasons for that. There are bands to follow, streetcorners to squat and trends to hop on elsewhere in the country. If you’re going to protest for a living, California with its more temperate weather, is a better bet than New York City, where the warm weather is only now waving a flag while promising to show up in a month or two. But the bigger reason is that Occupy Wall Street is now surplus to requirements.

New York City radicalism is a lifetime occupation for a small fringe, but the fringe is mostly ignored. The Trotskyite fronts never stop organizing anti-war rallies and informational events, no matter who sits in the White House.  If Dennis Kucinich won in 2016 and replaced the Defense Department with the Department of Peace, on the next day the usual suspects would still assemble at Union Square, right between the chess players and the breakdancers, and demand an end to war.

Under Clinton, the anti-war business was booming on the fringe, but the news media never deigned to show up and inflate rally counts the way they did once Bush was in office. The same press releases against the War in Yugoslavia were ignored until they were dusted off and swapped out for Afghanistan and Iraq and then suddenly the media couldn’t get enough of them.

The same aging Stalinists, Maoists and Trots, the Grandmothers for Peace and the Schoolteachers for Socialism and the ragged college students clutching their copies of Noam Chomsky, suddenly became important and relevant when they marched against Bush, even though they had been marching against Clinton without a single reporter in sight, have now gone back into purgatory.

The signs are still there. Smeared and taped to lampposts they denounce American imperialism in Syria, drone strikes in Afghanistan and the usual Latin American aperitifs. There are movie showings, speakers and rallies– but no further attention is paid to them. Because they are no longer convenient.

Occupy Wall Street, which under all the coats of paint was the same thing with a different brand, is no longer convenient. It served its purpose as an election weapon. Now that the election has been won, by the class warrior glutted on Wall Street money, no one cares about the little hairy man sitting at the folding table and trying to push buttons.

The remnants of the occupation sit at their card tables, like the last Japanese soldiers on a lost island, unwilling to understand that they were nothing more than a tool that venture capitalists investing in Green Energy and medical IT and a hundred other things, not to mention the usual mortgage men, used to get what they wanted.

Occupy Wall Street was every bit as hollow as any other election stunt. It was a temporary alignment between the agenda of the left and the far-left or the far-left and the really-far-left. The details, like the slapfights between the various species of Maoist, don’t matter. What does matter is that there are, as Elaine on Seinfeld once said, successful and unsuccessful Communists. The successful kind pose for official portraits. The unsuccessful kind have to compete with breakdancers, chess players, and burly black men wearing pink “I Am a Girl” jackets collecting petition signatures for the U.N. Plan International campaign to fight gender inequality.

The convenient radical is only convenient when the left, in all its varied forms, is out of power leading to a common front. Then his toxic ideas bleed into less radical sections of his movement. Each setback radicalizes the opposition until it becomes hard to tell the men from the pigs and the liberals from the commies. And then success is achieved, some section of the coalition is carried forward into power and their unlucky cousins are left behind at their folding tables.

That is how the Democrats turned so far to the left and adopted most of the talking points of the anti-war movement. But then once in office, they still found that they had wars to run. It’s all very well to say that Martin Luther King had a dream not a drone, but it’s hard to fight terrorists with dreams. Even when your anti-war credentials are impeccable, you sometimes come to the conclusion that it takes a drone.

These days the anti-war movement is making more headway with some Republicans than Democrats; which shows how desperate they have become. And Anti-Wall Street? The Democratic Party is Wall Street. Take away the V.C.s, the trial lawyers and the entertainment industry, and you have eliminated the non-contractor funding for the party of the jackass.

Occupy Wall Street, like Obama pretending to scold Wall Street’s bonuses, was a joke. A joke that its supporters and his supporters never understood. The punchline is power. Those who have it and those who don’t.

The radical is a convenience. In a common front, he provides ideas and energy. If he cleans up well and comes up with some moneymaking ideas and a seat at a non-profit foundation, then he can get an invite to the White House even if he has blood on his hands. But for every radical who finds a spot on the board of the family foundation of some deceased Republican millionaire, there are a dozen who never get a clue or come to understand the nature of their profession.

When the alignment has passed, then the convenient radical either becomes a successful leftist or he gets a job peddling Fifty Shades of Grey at the nearby Strand bookstore, once a radical haunt, now made over into another Barnes and Noble, under the guiding hand of the wife of Senator Ron Wyden; a most successful leftist indeed.

Like every other profession, some radicals move up the ladder and others remain toting around books full of Marxist theory among the skyscrapers of the Capitalist reality. The passion and energy is a bank that the left withdraws from when politically convenient and ignores when politically inconvenient.

The energy and appetites of the beast still lurk in every city where the theoreticians spin their webs, the propagandists inflame and the perpetual students gesture animatedly. As progressives they believe that inevitably every terrible idea that they have will go mainstream and the last sixty years have largely borne them out in this. But the filtering mechanism is the issue.

In the era of Obama, the filter is weaker than ever. The pattern echoes the ongoing one of every prior administration which, even in its conservative periods, has been more willing to let in bad ideas than the left. But the floodgates are not entirely open either because the one great difference between the successful leftist and the unsuccessful radical is the old maxim about why treason never prospers.

The leftist and the radical, successful and unsuccessful, are both tyrants at heart. But the leftist understands that tyranny is a vehicle for personal power and prosperity. The radical does not.

The difference between the leftist and the radical is that the radical sits outside to promote the cause, while the leftist profits from his shivering. The radical can, and often does, become the successful leftist, but to do so he must learn the basic lesson that the endgame is wealth and power. That wealth and power can come from wrecking a nation, but the wrecking ball can’t come too close to the homes of the Marxist millionaires picking up the tab.

The convenient radical understands this. Like Noam Chomsky or Oliver Stone, Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers or Michael Moore he has the timing and the instincts to get the right exposure at the right time and then profit from it. His ideas are radical, but his instincts are impeccable. He knows the right people and the right buttons to push. But most of all, he doesn’t collect donations in a coffee cup. While he writes furious essays denouncing capitalism or screams at Wall Street through a megaphone, he has a broker and an investment plan that will ride out the tough times.

Though the convenient radical may despise those on the left to the right of him, he understands how to cater to them and how to embed his ideas in theirs. The inconvenient radical is a man of poor instincts. He is the sort of man who is still sitting under that statue of George Washington lifting his sword to mark the departure of British troops from New York City watching the breakdancers spin and the shoppers move dazedly in the organic triangle between Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and the Farmers’ Market without realizing that the occupation is over and it’s time to move on.

Wall Street has won because it is simply capital and the liberals and the leftists have their capital that they need investing. Money always wins, in one form or another. Societies may collapse into dysfunction, but there will still be someone there selling them coffee and croissants at the end. And someone advancing him money and investing in coffee cup manufacturers and looking at commodity prices and calculating supply and demand. They may not do it well, but they will do it. There may just not be a middle class to do it with.

The convenient radical understands that Wall Street reflects his priorities. If he wants to push billions in bad loans to minority homeowners or invest in Green Energy, then it will be on board. Money will be lost, but it will be someone else’s money. The inconvenient radical does not understand this. He thinks that there will one day be an actual victory. The banks will fall and be replaced by communes where food will be awarded based on the results of quizzes about the life and ideas of Michel Foucault .That is what makes him hopelessly stupid, occasionally convenient, but largely useless.

The inconvenient radical does not understand that the commune is not an option. There will either be a society with a large middle class dominated by the middle class or a society of the poor dominated by the upper class.

The convenient radical understands this and seeks the society in which a large underclass is dominated by a narrow elite. This is the society that he tirelessly inveighs against and wants to create. This outcome is what makes the left into the totalitarian entity that it is. The knowing hypocrisy is what distinguishes the successful leftist, from the inconvenient radical.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Who is an ‘Islamist’ and Why it Matters

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The Associated Press has decided that the word “Islamist” may not be used to describe anything objectionable.  The Jewish Press’s Lori Lowenthal Marcus calls out the relevant passage from the news service’s newly revised stylebook:

[An Islamist is] an advocate of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Hmmm.  It’s an interesting question who will be called an Islamist by A.P. writers, given this definition.

Who is an Islamist?

Presumably, Mohammed Morsi could be called an Islamist by the A.P. – unless the second sentence above cancels out the first, making it impossible to call anyone an “Islamist.” And maybe that’s the case; if so, defining “Islamist” is an exercise in futility for the A.P.

But will Morsi be called an Islamist?  By the letter of the A.P. definition, being labeled an Islamist would put Morsi in company with Hamas, the Iranian clerical council, and the Taliban.  He belongs there, of course, but will that association be considered politically correct, given that the U.S. government is committed to Morsi’s success, and continues to deliver arms to him?

Hamas and the Taliban are terrorist organizations, but are or have been government authorities as well (the latter aspiring to be one again), reordering government and society precisely in accordance with laws they deem to be prescribed by Islam.  Iran’s leaders sponsor terrorism, as well as doing the reordering thing in the name of Islam.

In fact, Hizballah fits the bill as well, being a terrorist organization which currently governs Lebanon.  Among this terrorist-governing group, Hizballah may have made the least effort to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  But then, Hizballah governs a tiny, fractious, all-but-ungovernable nation with mostly porous borders, and in that role has been more concerned since January 2011 with holding power than with remaking society.  Does that mean there is some meaningful sense in which Hezbollah is not “Islamist” – even though it proclaims sharia and holds its political goals in common with Hamas and Iran (and has considerable overlap with Morsi in Egypt)?

Perhaps the seemingly narrow A.P. definition of “Islamist” is meant to ensure that only those who advocate Islamism from the more consensual environment of Western liberal societies will meet it.  This proposition will run into its own set of troubles, however, partly because radicals like Britain’s Anjem Choudary, who have been, so to speak, the face of Islamism in the West, might be considered ineligible for the title due to their explosively radical demeanor.  If Choudary isn’t an Islamist, who is?

That remains a good question, considering that other, more mainstream Western organizations may have ties through their leadership, like CAIR’s, to the Muslim Brotherhood and even terrorist groups, but they do not overtly propose to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.  Does that mean they are not Islamist?  And if not, what does that mean?

At present, CAIR’s efforts are not focused directly on reordering government and society, but rather on undermining one of the essential pillars of Western civilization: unfettered pursuit of the truth – about radical Islam as about anything else.  Government agencies, with their top-down institutional pieties, are an easy target for outright censorship in this regard.

The A.P. Stylebook revision is something different, and perhaps more insidious.  Presumably, an A.P. writer would not refer to CAIR’s involvement in redefining “Islamist” as a method of Islamism, although it is one.  And, in fairness, there is a good case to be made that rewriting definitions for political reasons is something the Western left requires no prompting to do.  Need it be “Islamist” to define categories prejudicially?  It certainly doesn’t have to be “Islamist” to label anyone whose arguments you don’t like a “racist.”  The Western left thought that one up all on its own.

The lack of firm ground to stand on in this analysis is quintessential in the propositions of radicals.  Corruption and politicization of the language are common radical tactics.  Whom, exactly, can an A.P. writer call an Islamist, given all these factors?  The antiseptic definition of Islamism approved by CAIR might apply only to Islamic theoreticians who never actually engage in political advocacy – if there are any.

Democracy is Not the Answer

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

To understand how we got to the point that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to support a government run by people who have been at war with us for almost a century is a policy that most foreign policy experts endorse, it helps to take a brief trip back in time.

In the last century, our big three wars, the two we fought and the one we didn’t, were against enemies who were seen as being distinguished by a lack of democracy, with the Kaiser, the Fuhrer and the Commissar embodying the antithesis of the American system.

The Democratic Party, which stood at the helm during both hot wars, was able to link its brand to the wars by defining them as struggles for democracy. The process of de-nationalizing war from a conflict between nations and ethnic groups was only partly realized in WWI, where invective against the “Huns” still simmered, but was largely achieved in WWII; with some exceptions made for Japan.

This idealization of war made post-war reconstruction and alliance easier. National and ethnic grudges were set aside and replaced by ideological platforms. If the trouble was a lack of democracy, then all we needed to do was defeat the tyrant’s armies, inject democracy and stand back. Focusing on democracy made it possible to rebuild Germany and Japan as quasi-pacifist entities expressing their grievances toward the Allies from the pacifistic stance of the moral high ground, rather than  through  military rearmament and revenge.

The United States had traded Hitler for Gunter Grass and while both hated the United States, Gunter Grass would write nasty essays about it, instead of declaring war on it.

And democracy made it easier to turn liberals against the Soviet Union, which had tossed aside every pretense of being a bottom-up system for what was clearly a top-down tyranny. The liberals who had believed in a war for democracy in Europe had difficulty tossing it aside after the war was over. And that emphasis on democracy helped make a national defense coalition between conservatives and liberals possible. Both might have fundamental disagreements, but they agreed that democracy was better than tyranny. And if that was true, then America was better than the USSR.

This strategy was effective enough against existing totalitarian systems. It however had a major weakness. It could not account for keeping a totalitarian ideology from taking power through the ballot box.

The assumption that because the Nazis and the Communists rejected open elections that they could not win open elections was wrong. Democracy of that kind is populism and totalitarian movements can be quite popular. The Nazis did fairly well in the 1932 elections and the radical left gobbled up much of the Russian First Duma. The modern Russian Communist Party is the second largest party in the Duma today.

Democratic elections do not necessarily lead to democratic outcomes, but the linkage of democracy to progress made that hard to see. The assumption that democracy is progressive and leads to more progress had been adopted even by many conservatives. That fixed notion of history led to trouble in Latin America and Asia. And it led to total disaster in the Arab Spring.

Cold War America knew better than to endorse universal democracy. Open elections everywhere would have given the Soviet Union more allies than the United States. The left attacked Eisenhower and Kennedy as hypocrites, but both men were correct in understanding that there was no virtue in overthrowing an authoritarian government only to replace it with an even more authoritarian government; whether through violence or the ballot box.

As time went on, Americans were assailed with two interrelated arguments. The left warned that the denial of democracy was fueling Third World rage against the United States. By supporting tyrants, we were conducting an occupation by proxy. And on the right we heard that tyranny was warping Third World societies into malignant forms. The left’s version of the argument directed more blame at America, but both versions of the argument treated democracy as a cure for hostility.

September 11 appeared to confirm one or both of the arguments as policymakers and pundits found themselves confronted with an unexpected wave of hostility from countries that they had not spent much time thinking about.

A Jewish State Can Be Democratic and Moral

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he has published an essay in (where else?) the New York Times, in which he argues that the proposition ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’ is false.

There are many things in the article to complain about, but I am going to content myself with pointing out the single massive howler by which his argument collapses.

He makes the distinction between “a people in the ethnic sense” and in the “civic sense,” which means either residents of a geographical area or citizens of a state. He generously grants that there is a Jewish people in the ethnic sense who live in Israel, but only an ‘Israeli people,’ which includes Arabs, in the civic sense. Then he tells us,

…insofar as the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination entails the right to a state of their own, it can apply to peoples only in the civic sense…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall…

“Any state that ‘belongs’ to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group” [my emphasis].

His exposition is much more lengthy and you should read it. But I think I have extracted the gist of it.

Interestingly, while he explains what he means by ‘a people’ and draws a distinction between two senses of the expression, he does not even hint about his understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ and especially “the core democratic principle of equality,” the violation of which he believes disqualifies Israel from continued existence as a Jewish state.

Levine explains how Israel violates these principles:

The distinctive position of [a favored ethnic people] would be manifested in a number of ways, from the largely symbolic to the more substantive: for example, it would be reflected in the name of the state, the nature of its flag and other symbols, its national holidays, its education system, its immigration rules, the extent to which membership in the people in question is a factor in official planning, how resources are distributed, etc.

Actually, concerning the “more substantive” things, Arab citizens of Israel are doing quite well: they have the right to vote, to hold political office, and a large degree of control of their educational system; there are rules against discrimination in housing and employment (with exceptions related to national security), etc. In other words, they have full civil rights.

Naturally there are differences in the treatment of Jews and Arabs. Some are due to cultural differences — Arab towns are governed by Arabs and distribute resources differently — some are related to security, and some to anti-Arab prejudice. But the degree of prejudice in Israeli society is not particularly great compared to other advanced nations like the U.S., and nobody is suggesting that the U.S. does not have a “right to exist” unless all discrimination can be eliminated.

In any event, discrimination in what he calls “substantive” ways are not essential to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and there is a general consensus that such discrimination is wrong and should be eliminated.

Israel’s immigration rules are certainly unequal. But immigration rules by definition do not apply to citizens; and few — if any — of the world’s nations permit free immigration.

Levine also does not consider security issues at all. If Israel ignored them it would cease to exist without philosophical arguments. This would be bad both for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (just ask any of them if they would prefer to be citizens of Israel or the Palestinian Authority).

The Arab Street is Still Angry

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Much like Festivus, American diplomacy in the Middle East usually begins with an airing of grievances. These are not the American grievances over decades of terrorism and acts of violent hatred. These are the grievances that are supposedly infuriating the Arab Street. The list begins with Israel, continues on to the “Arab Dictators” supported by America and concludes with warnings to respect Mohammed by not making any cartoons or movies about him.

During his first term, Obama kept his distance from Israel, locked up a Christian who made a movie about Mohammed and withdrew his support from the Arab Dictators. The street should have been happy, but now it’s angrier than ever. And much of that anger is directed at America.

Mohamed El Baradei, once the administration’s choice to take over Egypt, has refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry. Joining him in this boycott is much of Egypt’s liberal opposition.

When Mubarak was in power, the “Arab Street” of Islamists and Egyptian leftists was angry at America for supporting him. Now the “Arab Street” of Egyptian leftists, Mubarak supporters and some Anti-Brotherhood Islamists is angry at America for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The American foreign policy error was to assume that the political grievances of the Arab Street could be appeased with democracy. They can’t be. The various factions are not truly interested in open elections. What they want is for America to elevate their faction and only their faction to power. When that doesn’t happen, they denounce the government as an American puppet and warn of the great and terrible anger of the Arab Street if America doesn’t make them its puppet instead.

Democracy is no solution, because none of the factions really wanted democracy for its own sake. They wanted it only as a tool to help them win. Now that the tool has failed most of them, they don’t care for it anymore. And the Islamists who benefited from democracy have no enduring commitment to it. Like all the other factions, they see it as a tool. A means, not an end.

While the West views democracy as an end, the East sees it as only a means. The West believes in a system of populist power rotation. The East however is caught between a variety of totalitarian ideologies, including Islamists and local flavors of the left, who have no interest in power rotation except as a temporary strategy for total victory.

There is no actual solution to the Arab Street that will please all sides and keep their hatred of America down to a dull roar. Whichever side the United States of America backs will leave the others full of fury. If the United States doesn’t back a side but maintains good relations with the government, it will still be accused of backing that government.

The only way to disprove that accusation is for the winning side to demonstrate its hostility to the United States. Accordingly even governments that are in theory friendly to the United States must demonstrate their unfriendliness as a defense against accusations that they are puppets of the infidels. And as a result, no matter whom the United States supports, all the factions, including those we support, will continue to engage in ritual displays of hostility against us.

Trying to appease the fictional construct of an Arab Street that has clear and simple demands is a hopeless scenario. It’s a Catch 22 mess where every move is ultimately a losing move, no matter how promising it initially appears to be.

There is no Arab Street. The real Arab Street is the overcrowded cities full of angry men with no jobs and lots of bigotry. Their hostility to the United States has nothing to do with the sordid politics that experts insist on bringing up to prove that the Muslim world hates us with good reason. Even if this history did not exist, the United States would be just as hated. The best evidence of that is that most of the accusations that enjoy popularity on the Arab Street are entirely imaginary.

Demagogues can lead the street from bread riots to toppling governments, but what they cannot do is fix the underlying problems, let alone change the bigotry of people who blame all their problems on the foreigners, rather than on themselves. Each faction promises that the anger will subside and stability will return when it comes to power, but the anger will never go away because it’s too convenient to blame America for everything. As long as America is around, no one in the Muslim world ever has to take responsibility for anything.

Who Will Morsi Heed: Allah or Tom Friedman?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Sigh. Forgive me. I really don’t want to write this article but it is too good a case study of the contemporary Western foreign policy reporting, debate, and elite attitudes toward international affairs. And doing a better job is vital because this task involves the fate of millions of people; matters of war and peace; the most basic interests of the United States; and the decency of intellectual discourse.

I refer of course to Thomas L. Friedman’s latest effort, “The Belly Dancing Barometer,” (New York Times, February 19, 2013). Hey, tens of millions of lives are at stake so that’s worth a flippant title and a goofy concept, right?

Friedman writes:

Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. [President] Morsi’s power grab will haunt him.

The Brotherhood needs to understand that its version of political Islam – which is resistant to women’s empowerment and religious and political pluralism – might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt, you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of the potential for growth. So let me get this straight. Friedman is saying that you cannot trust the Brotherhood, it seeks total power and is antidemocratic. Hmm, What’s he been saying the last two years? He’s been an apologist for the Brotherhood, a cheerleader for the course taken by the “Arab Spring,” and has constantly insisted that the democratic revolution is going well.

Indeed, in January 2012, I wrote an analysis of Friedman’s coverage entitled, “Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved.” Now that it’s too late he is supposedly outraged to see what’s going on there.

Now he concludes that the Egyptian regime is not democratic at all but then draws no conclusion about how U.S. policy should change to adjust for his discovery?  Does Friedman now favor, as he hints in the article, using real pressure on Egypt if the regime continues to be repressive at home? Will he criticize Obama for not doing so?

But if Morsi has “Bolshevik tendencies” might that not also lead to his doing something nasty to U.S. interests?

It’s like identifying a mass murderer and then saying, “Do you really think you can get away with this without a vast criminal organization behind you?” rather than yelling, “Help, police! There’s a mass murderer over there!”

And then on top of that he uses the “needs to understand” phrase so beloved of newspaper editorialists but totally absurd in dealing with dictators. Well, what if they don’t understand?  How about saying:

Herr Hitler needs to understand that he cannot conquer the whole world. Germany lacks the economic base to do so.

And do we now believe in economic determinism? Was the USSR sustainable? Can you imagine someone writing this in 1917 to the Bolsheviks?

Mr. Lenin needs to understand that the Soviet Union [yes, I know it wasn't founded until several years later but I'm trying to make a point here] should abandon its Bolshevik tendencies because it will never work out.

Sure the Soviet Union failed but it took almost 75 years and there were tens of millions dead as a result.

And since when did a Middle Eastern radical dictatorship (even one that was elected) put economic pragmatism ahead of seeking its goals: the PLO or Palestinian Authority, Saddam Hussein? Gamal Abdel Nasser? I  don’t remember the Iranian government dropping the nuclear weapons program because of economic sanctions.

Arguably, one such leader did bow to economic necessity to moderate. His name was Anwar al-Sadat and now his regime–under Sadat’s successor, Mubarak–is the villain for America and the West.

Note that Friedman never says: President Obama needs to understand that he cannot trust this Muslim Brotherhood regime, should see it as a threat to U.S. interests, and must work to undermine it.

Moreover, is Friedman correct and Morsi wrong? Is the world really going to cut off the money to Egypt if it keeps getting more Islamist? Will the U.S. insist that the IMF stop aiding the Egyptian regime or even stop sending it free weapons?

Obama’s Careful Phrasing Conceals Disasters

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.

The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.

Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:

For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.
For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.
Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken. And some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.Now there certainly have been accomplishments on these three fronts but these claims are also profoundly misleading and very carefully worded. Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq Withdrawal. It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.

The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge—which Obama and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.

Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.

Osama Bin Laden. This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida is still a threat but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.

Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida has been defeated.

In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaida hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.

Incidentally, al-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.

In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:

My message is simple. It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.In fact, though, businesses are not fleeing the United States because the wages are lower there while the Obama Administration puts into effect increasingly tight and costly regulations and imposes higher costs (including the impact of Obamacare). Moreover, wages are lower overseas.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/obamas-careful-phrasing-conceals-disasters/2013/02/15/

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